Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
In mythology, a hydra is a serpent-like beast with many heads. And when you cut one head off, it grew two more. It also had poisonous breath and acid like blood.
So why would you name a publishing imprint after it?
Random House did. And the SF/F community promptly went after it. And Random House responded. And so it goes.
There are many roads to Oz and Oz means different things for different people.
Briefly the key points: no advance; authors are charged for ‘set up’ costs; and the contract wants all rights for the length of the copyright.
Plenty of blogs have sprouted up tearing apart these, and more, issues so I’ll leave them to that, except to note that Random House’s response does have some merit. I think we’ll see a lot more of the “no advance/profit sharing” model. This makes everyone have a vested interest in the success of the book. It’s the model we use at Cool Gus. I see many of those in SF/F upset about no advance, but it’s because most of those get an advance. I actually turned down an advance on my last deal and went straight royalty. Again, every author’s situation is different. It’s not hard for an author who is being treated well by a trad house to defend trad publishing; nor is it hard for an indie who is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars to believe that’s the way to go. Since I came up with the term “hybrid author” in June 2011, we’re seeing more and more of these creatures who have one leg in each camp.
I’m not a fan of money flowing from author to publisher. What Random House is doing, let’s be honest, is shilling it’s name, to get authors to fork over money; the vast majority of whom won’t ever earn back even the few hundred dollars stated. And, as Random House points out, there will be a couple of authors who actually break out, but as with any road in publishing, the break out author is the rare exception.
Don’t even get my started on rights, out-of-print, reversion, etc. etc.
But I think we have to look at the bigger picture. I’m seeing a shift in focus in publishing that’s becoming a bit incestuous. From making money off readers to making money off writers. After all, something like three quarters of people surveyed say they want to write a book. That’s a big market. In fact, that’s more than the number of people who actually read books. I remember having students years ago with the Writers Digest Correspondence course and one of the questions in the first lesson was: “How many books do you read a year?” And the answer would often be: “I don’t read books.”
But they sure want to write them. Heck, pretty much every conference I’ve been at in the past year, there are more “authors” sitting behind tables “signing” than people in front of the tables buying books.
We’ve seen Author Solutions branch out with traditional publishers. We’re seeing tons of start-ups offering boilerplate packages to potential authors, offering everything from cover art, to editing, to formatting, to ‘publicity packages’. Many publishers are flirting the thin line between publishing and vanity publishing. I know the thinking—there’s a market out there and we can tap it. I sense this is what Random House is doing.
In the same manner, I see an incestuous thing among writers. We’re all talking to each other, but where the hell are the readers? I’ve got 15,000 twitter followers and I’d be willing to bet over half of them are authors. I feel like we’re in a stadium full of writers all shouting at each other, in one form or another, “Buy my book!”
Another disturbing trend is a shift away from writers focusing on the craft and becoming better writers, to authors focusing on marketing and promoting. I recently offered an online course on Original Idea in January. In the past I’d get 75 to 100 people to sign up for it. We had two sign up and canceled it. Conferences are full of marketing, promo, self-publishing workshops to the detriment of craft.
To me, the ugly heads of Hydra we need to be aware of, is that if we don’t keep our eye on our market, which is readers, it will, in the long run, destroy us, whether we be authors, agents or publishers.
Making money off writers can only take you so far. Going back to my Cool Gus (much better name than Hydra, if I do say so myself) mantra: Authors create product, which is story. Readers consume product. Everyone else is in between. To shift the focus toward writers being the consumer of whatever product is being offered in between is a dangerous business plan in the long term. We’ve seen these vanity presses come and go, usually swarmed under with lawsuits from disgruntled customer (writers) who wake up and realize the hundreds or thousands of dollars they’ve poured into getting their story out there has resulted in very few consumers actually reading it.
I see publishers, agents and writers go for the short term fix instead of the long term marathon of producing great stories that readers want.
I no longer look at my own company as a publisher. We’re a partner with our authors. It might seem insignificant but the change in attitude has been very eye-opening. We’re all in this together and we have to keep our focus on the correct objective.